STEP BY STEP: A BRIEF GUIDE IN ORGANIZING THE PEOPLE
The original Step by Step document, entitled ‘A Brief Guide in Organizing Migrants’, was uploaded from the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law, and Development and later adapted and refined to our own experiences in community organizing in Toronto.
There exists a saying in Tagalog:
“A broom cannot be of much use if it is not bound together.”
This saying captures the essence of this organizing guide, which is reflected in the principle that “The people, united, will never be defeated”.
The marginalized sectors of a society cannot protect themselves from their oppressors and exploiters unless they are aware of their conditions and they are united and organized against them.
With this material, workers and organizers can be guided in the process of organizing.
Step-by-Step aims to assist in the organization and mobilization of people as they are found in various work sites and social standing, whether temporarily or permanently.
As is demonstrably clear, marginalized people in Toronto, and in a large portion of the territory of Canada, are unorganized as marginalized people. While sometimes people may be activated in a given workplace or neighbourhood in response to an issue that arises, these spontaneous forms of organization rarely allow for people to continue their political development and advance their political struggle.
Even within workplaces, the goal of organizing workers into unions does not necessarily lead to the building of a consciousness among those workers that will create the basis for their continued growth into more advanced organizers.
This article builds on the successful experiences of Filipino organizers in their diasporic communities and national democratic struggles. Its methodology and strategy, adapted from their own revolutionary struggle in the Philippines, will serve as the basis for creating the first necessary components of towards generating a mass movement in Canada that is independent from both the bourgeoisie and the opportunistic forces of social democracy.
CHAPTER 1: An Introduction to Step-by-Step Organizing
Why organize the working class?
Militant organizations are essential among the ranks of the people. Workers all around the world are experiencing the harsh effects of an all-around worsening economic and social situation in their societies, characterized by increased in the cost of basic goods and services (i.e. gas, rent, food); rising unemployment and economic stagnation; a relative decrease in the real wage and social wage (i.e. wages do not keep up with the cost of living and the social services provided by the state are being clawed back from the working class); deteriorating environmental conditions; and incessant imperialist war and state terror.
It is essential to understand that this overall degenerating situation reflects the overall putrefaction of the capitalist system, an incessantly growing economic system based on the exploitation of labour by capital. We were reminded of how crisis-ridden and contradictory capitalism is with the 2008-09 with the global economic crisis, the fundamental causes of which have not been resolved. At the current stage of capitalism – imperialism, or monopoly capitalism – the economic order cannot produce anything but seemingly irrational arrangements in society: tremendous waste of natural resources and productive capacity poured into mass consumerism; the use of precious human and natural resources used to wage highly destructive wars; localized and generalized or protracted ecological catastrophes; hundreds of millions of unproductive and idle hands; forced migration and displacement in the hundreds of millions. Such irrational orderings are only some of the means and institutions by which the parasitic and monopolistic imperialist rulings classes maintain their control over the state and the vast means of production.
The Importance of Organizing
Organizing paves the way for people to learn through struggle the necessity of organization as a means to protect their rights and welfare. A component part of this lesson that people need to learn is that those rights and welfare were not granted to working-people by the powerful, but were fought for and won through the struggle of oppressed people at some earlier time in history; and that the lack of organization among our ranks will only lead to the further erosion of our rights and welfare.
Ultimately, organizing people around their local struggles must give way to countrywide, multi-national struggle in Canada.
What is a mass organization? How do we build one?
A mass organization is the collective strength, skills and experiences of a set of individuals who share common aspirations and unite to promote and defend their legitimate concerns for progressive social change in their society. Within such an organization, a declaration of principles clearly unites its membership. Such a declaration will reflect an active and effective collation of knowledge, skills and potentials of its members. Likewise, a mass organization of the working-class will be one that truly defends the interests of the working-class as a whole, or one of its sectors. Such an organization may defend the welfare and rights of workers in a particular sector, or in the class as a whole. In either case, a working class mass organization struggles against the exploitation and slavery of the many by the few.
Step-by-Step Yields Strong Mass Organizations
To form a solidly grounded mass organization, a step-by-step method must be used. This method of organizing begins with initial social investigation, and continues through to the building of initial contacts, organizing groups (OGs), a committee of organizing groups (OC) and the formation of a formal mass organization that will genuinely uphold the interest of the people it is organizing.
The step-by-step method of organizing yields a solid and active participation of all of its members in the mass organization. Broad and active participation of the full membership is essential for the growth and success of the organization, just as it is important for the weeding-out or neutralizing of opportunists, destructive personalities, and potential enemy agents. A mass organization can be contrasted with organizations that are characterized by great divides between their membership and their leadership. Such organizations include staff-driven organizations, service-provision organizations, NGOs, bourgeois political parties, and social democratic controlled trade unions. In some of these cases, the controllers of the organization depend on funding from outside the ranks of those they claim to serve, such as those NGOs and social service agencies that rely on government funding to carry out their services. In the case of many trade unions, workers have their membership dues automatically levied from their paycheques and that is the extent of their relationship with their union leadership.
The Components of Step-by-Step
Broadly speaking, there are multiple approaches we can take to organizing workers. One is to organize working people in their workplaces. Second is to organize broad sectors of workers outside their workplace on a neighbourhood, or sectoral basis, as women, students, or in their ethnic “communities”.
To maximize the time and effort of those willing to engage in organizing work, it is recommended to start the work by concentrating efforts of individuals or groups in a given area (workplace, ‘community’ or neighbourhood) before reaching out to other places. By concentrating our efforts, mass activists will gain invaluable experience about the characteristics of successful organizing among the people and about putting revolutionary theory to practice.
A consolidated group of mass activists can accumulate invaluable experiences by concentrating their efforts in one organizing project. Upon the successful organization of workers in one community, many of the advanced workers can be convinced to organize in other sectors and communities. Thus, more organizers will learn from such experiences and a wider range of people shall be reached.
1. The Importance & Methods of Social Investigation
Social investigation (SI) is a method of investigation that consists of the preliminary gathering of data & information prior to launching an organizing effort in a community or workplace. It can consist of reading reports by NGOs or government agencies, doing door-to-door surveying, calling fact-finding meetings, keeping track of interesting anecdotes provided by community members or a combination of the above and other SI methods.
SI is fundamental to know the situation, conditions, issues and problems confronting the people in a given neighborhood or sector. It also reflects a partial insight into the broader political and economic situation and culture of the country. Furthermore, it provides us with an understanding of the economic relations of workers in the neighborhoods where they live.
Using social investigation to know the conditions of the people is not done in one sitting. It is a process that continues throughout and after the creation of a mass organization. Ongoing investigation is important to our organizing work, yielding from here a concrete basis to form an organization. It gives us the basis to determine the form or type of mass organization that will be established. Too often, Canadian activists think they know it all already, declaring organizations without even going among the people and doing some SI first, without knowing whether the people actually need one form of organization rather than another. It is the lack of systematic and sustained SI that accounts for the inability of many organizers to create mass organizations and link up with the people. The unreceptive response of workers to all these efforts is then attributed to their overall “backwardness” as opposed to the backward methods of activists! Many workers may have some reactionary or “backward” ideas that we may need to address or combat, but this is another matter, discussed further below.
In the process of organizing the people, by using social investigation, we can identify those who are most willing to get involved as well as those elements or individuals who are there to impede the consciousness raising, mobilizing & organizing.
Integration and Research are other components of our social investigation. Integration consists of going among the people and living with them or integrating into the local activities of the community. This is a major form of social investigation, wherein we are directly in touch and hold discussions with and among the masses. In this manner, we are able to know their day-to-day problems and the way to solve these.
Research is also a form of SI that gathers facts and figures through newspapers, documents of the government’s agencies and from books, surveys, interviews, etc.
2. Contact Groups (CG)
In the process of launching social investigation and integration among the masses, an organizer should begin to look out for the politically advanced elements in the area of work. The first step of organizing must be to consolidate the most advanced contacts gathered into a contact group, wherein the problems of the area, community, or sector can begin to be addressed in a more systematic way among the advanced masses.
Three to five individuals may constitute a group of contacts. A contact group can be formed in a particular area such as a particular building, a work place, block and community. In the context of a broad area of work that has been identified as the target location to form a mass organization, it may be necessary to form multiple contact groups before proceeding further with organizing people into higher levels of organization.
Political Strata Among the Masses
It is important to be able to recognize and differentiate between those people whose political ideas are relatively advanced, middle, basic, or backward, in political terms. Of course, these are not scientifically constituted or even fixed terms, and one shouldn’t attach moral judgments to these classifications. If an organizer tries to rush ahead with launching an organization with a random smattering of contacts gathered, including people who have backward ideas or who are not politically motivated to carry out the necessary work, the organizing effort is bound to flounder, if not fail. Cynicism and nay-saying may drown an initiative in its infancy because of the poor quality of the contacts. It’s important to bring together those who have the greatest determination to struggle and win.
It is also important to understand that these classifications are relative in nature. That is to say that what constitutes an advanced contact in one place – say, where the political atmosphere is highly charged and the contradictions intense – will appear to be much more politically advanced than what constitutes an advanced contact in a place where the contradictions and struggle is not as fierce.
The classifications that we must keep in mind when organizing the people are as follows:
1.The advanced masses are those who are active and who regularly participate in political discussions and are willing to take up work and deliver upon tasks assigned.
2.The middle masses are those who attend discussions albeit irregularly and find difficulty to spare time for education and mass actions.
3.The basic masses are those who we cannot expect to attend our discussions and other forms of education activities, but who may support and believe in our work and struggle.
4.The backward masses are those who are uninterested or unconcerned with organizing and may even struggle against it. What distinguishes the “backward” masses from the “basic” masses are the ideas they hold which may be counter-productive or completely destructive to organizing, such as “all these black youth should be locked up”; “we need more cops in the community”; “unions are useless”; or “there’s no point in struggling, things have always been this way”. Racist attitudes of some working-class people and patriarchal or misogynistic attitudes about the role of women in organizing are examples of backward ideas that will be a hindrance to organizing, and should be struggled against. Such struggles can be carried out without always writing off the people who may espouse these backward ideas. It’s only when such people have proved to be incorrigible for the time being that we ignore, exclude, or neutralized their participation.
The “advanced” and some “middle” masses are the people that must be united in the building of a mass organization, even from the earliest stages of social investigation. Many of those identified as “basic” and “backward” will be won over through protracted ideological struggle and once they see the positive example set by the rest of the people in struggle.
If the people as a whole are completely unresponsive to your organizing efforts, it is not because all of the people are backward, as some activists like to claim, but because there is something wrong with your organizing methods. Go back and check your methods and see if you’ve been following a step-by-step method. Have you done a sufficient amount of SI? Are your political calls based on the problems identified in your SI?
3. Organizing Groups (OGs)
The mere grouping of individuals and contacts does not mean we have the capacity to form a mass organization. We need to transform the initial contact group into an Organizing Group (OG). What differentiates the contact group from the organizing group is the level of political unity within the grouping. An OG exists when the individuals within it have consolidated a vision of what sort of organization should be striven towards.
Once the OG is formed, the Contact Group can be dissolved, and the OG can begin undertaking the work of building towards a mass organization, which includes internal education amongst the current members and broader political education amongst the masses.
An initial OG will have to devise the means to broaden the scope of their reach to the masses through some short-term plan of work or assignment of tasks among the existing members. The goal of the OG is to win more people over to the vision of the organizing group, and with this greater support, to break down the single organizing group into multiple OGs. However, depending on the level of struggle or the awareness for the need for struggle that exists, the initial OG may need to carry out some active mass work amongst the people more broadly to prove that they are serious about their initiative and not merely “all talk”. What this mass work looks like entirely depends on the organization being constructed.
The OG is usually composed of 3 to 5 individuals, one of which is designated to perform the task of a team leader. A second or a deputy team leader may be assigned. Others may be tasked to take on various responsibilities in mobilizing people for the creation of the mass organization. The principal task of the OG is to work towards the formation of an organizing committee representing the multiple OGs.
4. The Organizing Committee (OC)
Once there is at least three OGs developed for the creation of a mass organization, it is important that close coordination of these OGs is ensured in implementing the plan of work. To ensure coordination an Organizing Committee (OC) can be formed when at least three OGs exist. It is the responsibility of the OC to coordinate the activities of the OGs working towards the creation of a mass organization.
It is the task of the OC to take up the drafting of documents required to launch the mass organization, such as its Basis of Unity, it Constitution, its By-laws, policies, resolutions, etc.
Once a formal general members’ meeting to launch the organization is held, the OGs will no longer exist in their old form. In a formal sense they are dissolved as the operation of the formal organization begins. However, the old OGs may form the basis for dividing up the work of the new mass organization, particularly if the mass organization in question is geographically-based.
5. The General Assembly
Simultaneous with the launching of a political education program and the launching of political mass actions is the preparation for the general assembly.
The basis of unity, objectives of the organization, and provisions with regards to the policies of the organization and the rights and obligations of the membership, must be discussed and unify those who are in the said general assembly.
Proposed resolutions regarding different issues and elections of officers of the organization will also be presented. The general assembly is the highest organ inside an organization. The general assembly will not, and should not, strive to convene all potential/future constituents of the organization. Only contacts and activists in the community with whom the central questions of the organization have been struggled through should attend such a meeting. Anyone who has made it this far in organizing and political discussion would have proved themselves to be advanced masses and will form the core of the community or workplace organizing effort.
After the formal election of officers in the general assembly is held, the OGs and the OC are thus dissolved (even though it is expected that there will be an overlap in individuals across the original OGs and OC and the newly elected officers). The newly elected set of officers will take the responsibility to manage the organization and to consolidate and expand the membership. The new set of officers will spearhead/lead in arousing, mobilizing and organizing the membership of the organization.
CHAPTER 2: Types of Organizing
A. Based on Type of Work
This organization is composed of members whose type of work is common to those employed in various companies.
B. Based on Employing Companies
This is an organization whose members who are employed in one company. Its membership comes from those assigned in different departments or sections of production and offices. This can be considered as a union but it has a distinct nature of an organization, which we are forming in a company.
C. Based on Areas/Place
This could be an organization of people in a community or neighbourhood, among whom there will be various national origins and class backgrounds.
D. Based on Gender
Usually this is an association of women due to the particularity of abuses that women suffer as workers but also as women.
E. Other Types of an Organization
Organizations or associations can be formed through sports clubs, artist groups, racial groups, religious groups. Such formations may at time prove useful in organizing people for struggle.
Chapter 3: The Basics of Organizing
A. Education and Propaganda
Holding political education sessions and widely distributing propaganda are essential features of organizing, consciousness-raising and mobilizing. They are the fundamental ingredients of political development. Political education develops the ideas of the advanced masses and develops them into dedicated community organizers, and the propaganda that they can be encouraged to undertake will develop the ideas of the other strata of the masses
Prior to the formal formation of an organization, the members must undergo a process of formal and informal education. A formal education is administered through a formal course list and in a series of modules. Informal education takes place through mass actions and practical experiences, and these experiences are carefully evaluated and reflected upon so as to teach the value of experience and practice in learning.
Education is usually given formally and systematically and requires a certain time frame per lecture or discussion.
On the other hand, propaganda – another form of informal education – is often of short period of time and is done through various forms: newsletters, manifestos, posters, poems, skits, etc. Various types and forms of propaganda can be used, depending on the feasibility of a condition or situation. As with political education, the objective of propaganda is to arouse, organize and mobilize people. Propaganda is a powerful tool for these ends. However, unlike formal education, propaganda is less targeted and more sweeping, as it reaches out to a broader number of people.
B. Mass Campaigns
The work of a mass organization must be to reach out and encourage broad participation among its membership. Thus, all members should be encouraged to take part in social investigation, mass distribution of reading materials, the activities of the committees, and in other mass actions and mobilizations.
A mass action must have clear and precise objectives. Mobilizations that are launched must be based on the level of awareness of the membership, on the strength of the organization, readiness of the members and on possible reactions resulting from the said mass actions.
Mass campaigns can already be launched while the organizing group has yet to yield an organizing committee. An organizing group can already hold a mass campaign. It is fruitful to launch campaigns at this stage to test the eagerness of the middle and advanced masses that are part of the group of contacts. Through a mass campaign at this embryonic stage, potential mass activists can be identified. However, taking into consideration the level of awareness, strength, readiness, and possible implications of actions at this early stage of development, advanced organizers should beware of setting the masses up for disappointment.
Mass campaigns are the best form of education to arouse and educate the people, gathering and accumulating their concrete experiences to expose the real interests of the rich, the state and its agencies.
Moreover through successful mass campaigns, people will see/realize the importance of organization and its continuing expansion.
After each mass action, the following must be done:
1. Assessment or evaluation of mass actions and identifying lessons and experiences derived from it. It is necessary to determine if the organization and consciousness of the people is strengthened by the action in question.
2. After any assessment / evaluation, the result must be echoed to the membership by calling a general meeting of the contacts or members. Comments gathered from each member must be raised to the leadership for deliberation and study.
3. Adjust to whatever changes resulting from the mass action. Be sincere and humble enough to accept weaknesses and criticisms and victories. In this way, critically evaluated experiences will be at our disposal as source for planning future mass actions.
C. Alliance Building
An alliance is an expression of unity and cooperation of various organizations towards a common aspiration, interest or objective. An alliance may be temporary or long-term depending on the basis for its formation. A temporary alliance may be formed to unify around a specific issue-based campaign. A long-term alliance may be formed to pursue the continuity of assistance and cooperation among the constituent organizations and struggle for broader goals.
In alliance building, the strength of unity is forged by extending assistance among different mass organizations. An issue may be better explained and projected because it can reach a wider base of people.
Nevertheless, the formation and structure of each organization comprising an alliance retains its independence. What is added is the implementation of work and tasks based on the unity of the alliance.
It is necessary that democracy be observed in alliance building. The position of each member organization must be considered and they must understand the objective of every mass action that the alliance will take. Weak unities and moving forward without the deliberation of all members will alienate constituent organizations.
The following are guiding organizational principles that must be observed and practiced within an alliance:
• decision making by consensus;
• the majority cannot dictate on the minority;
• the minority cannot veto the majority;
• mutual help and protection; and
• mutual benefit and cooperation.
These are principles that guide the continuing unity of organizations wherever they are and in the regions or countries they are in. These principles will also ensure that the right of each member organizations is assured and democracy is observed and practiced within the alliance.
In a long-term alliance, the general assembly is the highest decision-making body. Under it is the executive body and the secretariat. The executive body serves as the implementing organ in between congresses, making sure that the unity and programs decided by the congress is smoothly implemented while the secretariat carries out the day-to-day operation and tasks within the alliance.
CHAPTER 4: Specific Duties and Responsibilities in an Organization
Responsibilities of Officers
The officers are responsible to lead the organization and to ensure that the operation is managed and tasks are implemented. They must ensure that the plans and decisions are collectively and systematically implemented. They must know the situation of their members and that members are regularly updated on the situation of their organization. One of their responsibilities is to train potential leaders in the future.
Responsibilities of Members
It is the responsibility of the members to actively practice the principles and efforts/aspirations of the organization. It is important to bear in mind that all members are key parts of the organization, and that the consolidation and expansion of the organization is not only on the hands of the officers. An organization will not grow without the active participation of its members.
Each member must be confident in her/his capacity and must trust himself or herself to strengthen the organization. Each member must help newer members orient themselves to the work and take lessons from more learned members. Each member must participate actively in all activities decided upon by the organization.
Inactive participation of the members will lead to the weakening of the organization. It is also important that the members freely voice-out their suggestions so that the organization will be more stable. Criticisms that are not expressed become rust that weakens the unity of the organization. Unaired criticisms can fester and transform into petty personality differences. Aired criticisms are educative for all when they are discussed and deliberated, either being accepted as objective and strengthening the organization or buried as incorrect and subjective.
Committees in an Organization
A committee is a group composed of one official (or more) and some members of the organization. Each committee has a particular responsibility and objective. A committee must see to it that the organization’s activities and projects are pushed through. It also handles the needs and problems of the membership. It is also here where potential leaders of the organization are trained. Here are some examples of committees:
a. Education Committee – it plans and implements the educational programs for its members. This committee conceptualizes the course module and ensures that this is echoed to the membership. The course modules that are conceptualized must be according to the needs of the organization.
b. Information Committee – disseminates the objectives and principles of the organization, activities and other relevant information regarding the organization. Issuing newsletters; distribution of reading material that raises the awareness of the membership on important realities inside and outside the organization.
c. Organizing Committee – its major responsibility is to expand the membership of the organization. This committee recruits and organizes other areas or sectors that are not yet reached by the organization. The committee assists the officers in resolving organizational problems.
d. Finance Committee – it handles the funds of the organization and handles the fundraising projects of the organization. It is responsible to collect financial support from institutions and other organizations.
e. Welfare Committee – it handles the well being of the membership. For example, it assists members to collect the benefits due to them and it supports them and their families at times of accident or sickness.
Based on the needs of the organization in question, other committees may be formed. What is important is that the particular responsibilities of the committees are clearly identified.
CHAPTER 5: Managing an Organization
To manage a mass organization is to see to it that its professed aims are achieved efficiently and there exists a broad participation among its members. Managing an organization includes the preparation of organizational program, attending to organizational matters such as organizational structures, finances, and office management.
Officers and members must work hand-in-hand and practice collectivism in approaching the day-to-day operation of the organization.
In administering an organization, definite persons must undertake theri defined tasks. Active members can also join the executive officers in administering the work of the organization.
A plan is a set of activities and tasks to consolidate the mass organization and answer the needs of the mass membership.
Why do we need to plan?
· Achieve goals/objectives in a systematic way
· Maximize time/resources
· Anticipate problems
· Estimate cost
· Utilize limited resources to the maximum, etc.
There are resources and factors involved in planning. These are: people, knowledge/skills, time and money.
Stages in Planning:
1. know the needs and problems to be addressed
2. what do you want to achieve?/ formulate objectives
3. map-out/suggest possible ways of achieving goals
4. examine advantage/disadvantages of each proposal
5. decision making – which proposal to accept
6. inventory of resources (time, people, money, etc.)
7. division of labor – who will do what, when, where, how and how much
8. when should the evaluation be done
A good objective and plan is SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time-bound.
Learning from past experiences is a useful guide to advance future organizational plans and actions. Thus, after the plan gets concluded, an assessment and evaluation of the organizational plan is the next important task of the organization. This must be done before venturing to other plans and actions.
Evaluation and Assessment must be participatory. It must be done in participation of the general membership, or at least all those affiliated with the action undertaken. It is a process of assessing how far an activity has progressed and how much further it should be carried to accomplish objectives. It includes a review of what has been done and asking for feedback, etc.
The purpose of evaluation is:
• To see if the purpose/objective has been met and all are contented with the results;
• To avoid making the same mistakes again in a future action;
• To have a basis for improvement – correcting mistakes; and
• To identify the strengths and weaknesses, etc.
Assessment and evaluation is an important task that identifies the weaknesses and strength of members/officers in performing their assigned task, as well as the performance of the organization in general.
We are given the unenviable task of building a mass movement from virtually nothing in Canada, and it is also our responsibility to investigate why this is the case through researching the history of Canadian political economy and that of the movements that have preceded us.
However, the first necessary component of progressive social transformation in Canada must be the creation of genuine mass organizations and mass movements. This is not to say that today we organize mass organizations, and tomorrow we organize for revolutionary change. These things must take place at the same time, in dialectical relation to one another.
Step-by-step is a refined, tried, tested and true method for building mass organizations and yielding the highest possible form of democratic participation of the people in social change. Its principles have been widely applied across many contexts throughout the world and should be carefully studied and applied in building mass organizations in Canada. Of course, it is our duty to adapt these principles according to local and Canadian conditions and refine them based on the experiences of our successes and setbacks. Only in this way can we organize the people as active participants for genuine and progressive social change.